We recently had the chance to attend the Center for Autism Research (CAR) conference called “Stepping into Adolescence” in Philadelphia. CAR is a leader in autism research in the greater Philadelphia area, and is affiliated with the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. The conference was available to both parents of children on the autism spectrum and professionals in the community. It focused on children as they become adolescents, and how a child with autism’s experience with this transition differs from their typically developing peers. It was a great opportunity to connect with families of children on the spectrum and other professionals in our community.
One of our takeaways from the conference was how important it is for parents of children with autism to connect and share with each other. The challenges each family faces can feel isolating. When you’re able to develop a support network of people who are facing similar challenges, the feeling of isolation is mitigated. The resources the conference provided for families and the knowledge sharing amongst parents were phenomenal. With the increase in autism awareness nationwide, more and more universities and other organizations are doing research and providing resources for families. We have attended larger conferences in the Boston, New York, and New Jersey areas that seek to accomplish the same goals.
Asperger’s Family Camp Vermont
At Akeela, our Asperger’s Family Camp offers a chance for children and adults to connect with each other and share their best practices and experiences with each other. The results have been so powerful and moving. Some families are returning in August for their fifth summer of Akeela Asperger’s Family Camp!
We highly encourage everyone to seek out these opportunities to grow their own support network within the autism and Asperger’s communities!
Here are links to some of the great organizations we’ve connected with in various communities in the Northeast.
Camp is just around the corner! We’re excited to make our way up to camp in just one month to start prepping camp and our wonderful staff for Opening Day. Below you’ll find the link to our latest newsletter, the Spring 2016 Akeela Circular! Inside the newsletter you’ll find a preview of what to expect on day one of camp, get updates on some of the new things happening at camp, meet our superstar leadership team, and other information for our camp friends. Be sure to check out some of the reminders about baggage, camp forms, and other logistical items, too.
It seems that MINDFULNESS is the new “buzz word” these days. Even our first-grade daughter is learning mindfulness in school! As a therapist, I had a basic understanding of meditation and the scientific research that has demonstrated that a relaxed brain is a healthier brain and can also decrease stress and the impacts of stress on the body. On a cognitive level, meditation for children on the autism spectrum has always made sense to me. AND, I always felt that I couldn’t “do” it. My brain moved too fast and thoughts were always running through my mind. I couldn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes before I got bored and decided that meditation just wasn’t for me.
But over the course of many years, I kept hearing about MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programs taught at major hospitals and universities. Friends and colleagues kept mentioning the course to me and recommending that I give it a shot. And so, this year after giving the idea of Mindfulness some more thought and recognizing the benefits not just for myself but for our camp community and children on the Autism Spectrum too, I decided to give the program here at the University of Pennsylvania a try.
As I write, I’m about to enter week 7 of the 8-week program. And I have to say, learning about Mindfulness and starting a daily meditation “practice” has really changed the way I interact with the world around me and my own personal experience of myself. While I still feel frustrated, tense, anxious, angry at times, I’m better able to understand those experiences as just moments in time. This allows me not to get “stuck” and to be open to making a choice to feel differently. Is it easy? No. Finding 30 minutes to meditate every day (and doing that 3 times a day while we’re in the “boot camp” phase of the program) has been challenging. Stopping to breathe deeply when I’m feeling really stressed is also not easy. But the challenge has made it even more meaningful.
Because of my own growth, I’m excited to bring Mindfulness to our campers and staff this summer. I truly believe that we can help our campers feel more calm and able to manage their own struggles and hope that they can add Mindfulness to their “toolbox” of coping skills. I will be educating our Leadership Team and our staff about what mindfulness is and how it can change the way we all deal with stressful situations. We, as a staff, will learn how to use mindfulness in our daily interactions with our campers so that we are better able to help them achieve their goals. In addition, I will teach counselors how to use Mindfulness during morning meetings with their bunks and as part of the bedtime routine in an effort to help our campers unwind after a busy day at camp.
As always, our hope is to help our staff and our campers learn how to manage life’s challenges with greater ease and to find more joy in their lives. We believe Mindfulness for children on the Autism Spectrum is yet another tool we can use in this effort.
In early January, Camp Akeela hosted two events in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. One was our second annual Winter Weekend reunion for campers and the other was our first-ever Family Stay & Play, for camp parents and siblings. Both gatherings were absolutely wonderful and got everyone excited for our upcoming camp season!
The Winter Weekend brought together more than 50 Akeela campers for an extended reunion experience at Camp Winadu. Most campers came from the New York area, from metro Boston or from elsewhere in New England. Others travelled from as far as Pennsylvania and Virginia! That is a true testament to the strength of camp friendships and the lasting magic of the Akeela community.
It was amazing to see campers and staff reconnect with each other, happily falling back into “camp mode” within minutes of arriving. The weekend’s program pretty closely matched Akeela’s schedule, including organized camp activities (plus winter fun like sledding, ice skating and bowling!), free time for socializing and game-playing, Evening Meetings, and even a closing campfire on Sunday morning. Amidst the chilly winter weather, being together felt like a warm, sunny camp day on the shores of Miller Pond!
Simultaneous to the Winter Weekend, we also had 17 families join us at the Cranwell Resort and Spa for Akeela Family Stay & Play. Some parents knew each other from Family Camp or from having children in the same camp session; many others were meeting for the first time. Across the board, everybody loved having a chance to relax and play together in such a beautiful place.
The other wonderful aspect of Stay & Play was that it was a chance for parents to share ideas, learn from each other and bond over similar experiences. There was tremendous momentum for a “Camp Akeela Parents’ Association,” committed to creating more opportunities for parent connection (both live and virtual).
We’re proud to be a part of a strong and welcoming community that people feel so passionately about!
The latest edition of our camp newsletter, The Akeela Circular, has arrived! This edition included recaps of Winter Weekend and Family Stay & Play. It also outlines some exciting new initiatives to help keep our camper and parent communities better connected throughout the year. Kevin announces this year’s winner of our staff Fantasy Football league, Blayne’s Bulletin announces a few exciting facilities updates, and of course there are other important news items and reminders for our camp friends.
Happy New Year everyone! We’ve put together our annual slideshows from our 2015 summer sessions to remember the great moments we shared with each other at camp. Campers, remember to reach out to your friends you see in the slideshow to catch up!
The most recent issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine included a news item titled, “Five Soft Skills Needed for Job Success”. It referred to the following study published by Child Trends:
Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields (Laura H. Lippman, Renee Ryberg, Rachel Carney, Kristin A. Moore, 2015) *
Other educators are becoming increasingly aware of something that camp directors have known for generations: that “soft skills” are equally – if not MORE – important to a successful academic and professional careers as mastery of the more traditional school subjects. The Child Trends study referenced by Camping Magazine set out to more precisely define which skills are most closely correlated to positive workforce outcomes (including employment, on-the-job performance, wages and entrepreneurial success). Here are the top 5:
Social Skills – getting along with others, demonstrating respect, context-appropriate behavior and conflict resolution.
Communication – including oral, written, nonverbal and listening skills.
Higher-order thinking skills – problem-solving, critical thinking and decision making.
Positive self-concept – self-confidence, self-awareness, sense of well-being & pride
(These, by the way, align closely with what the 21st Century Skills movement has identified as the all-important 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication.)
What’s most notable to us is that this are precisely the skills that we teach at Camp Akeela. In fact, we couldn’t come up with a more accurate list of our explicit goals for campers if we tried! We see every moment of each camp day – whether it’s a structured camp activity, a meal, or “hang-out” time in the cabins – as an opportunity for our amazing staff to help campers develop their skillset in each of these areas. Our immediate objective in doing so is to have campers leave camp more connected, happier, more self-aware and self-assured. The fact that we’re also preparing them for greater long-term success in school and in the workforce is a source of great pride for us.
After the amazing time our campers had last year during the first Winter Weekend, we’re excited to announce our second Winter Weekend will be taking place January 8 – 10, 2016. This year we’ll be hosting two events:
The Winter Weekend is for all 2015 Akeela and Family Camp campers, taking place at Camp Winadu in Pittsfield, MA. This is a wonderful opportunity for campers to spend a fun filled weekend with their camp friends!
The Family Stay & Play is open to all 2015 Akeela families, taking place at the Cranwell Resort and Spa in Lenox, MA. This is a great chance for you to (re)connect with other Akeela families at a world class resort! Families can choose to have their campers participate in the Winter Weekend as Day Campers, too!
Please visit the links for more information and registration instructions. Space is limited for both the Winter Weekend and Family Stay & Play.
This is an email we recently sent to parents of a few Akeela campers:
Hi! We hope you are well and enjoying fall.
We wanted to let you know that two concerned parents have informed us that there is a very large group text circulating among approximately 15 Akeela campers that contains some inappropriate comments – some of which are directed at other campers. Your child’s name was mentioned as someone who is a participant. We understand that kids have a great deal of access to electronics and that it is sometimes hard to manage – especially when they are older. However, we would like to offer the following suggestions:
1.) Please remind your camper that he/she signed a behavioral contract before he/she came to camp and that we expect those boundaries to continue to be upheld throughout the year – especially when other Akeela campers are involved.
2.) Talk to your child about the dangers of inappropriate content on the internet or by text and the consequences that are often associated when a child is the disseminator of that content (i.e. suspension or expulsion from school, consequences at home, police involvement if any child feels threatened or bullied.)
3.) You may want to check your child’s phone and text history and monitor the use of electronic devices until you feel confident that your child is responsibly texting.
4.) You may want to remove your child from this “Text chain”.
Please let us know if you have any further questions. We have not read the text thread and were not given a great deal of information but wanted to share what we did know with you so you can talk to your child individually.
Debbie & Eric
There’s no question that we live in challenging times. When we were kids, our distractions were books, television and the phone (attached to a cord in the kitchen!) These days, children not only have TV, they also have screens EVERYWHERE: phones, computers, tablets … and they are all portable. Our campers are typically very “tech savvy” and are drawn to electronics. Video games are an escape of choice and campers often tell us that’s how they choose to unwind. However, just because our campers enjoy screen time and might even benefit from some of the more social games they play, it does not mean that they don’t need to be closely monitored.
Our campers often struggle with social nuances – that’s why they are choosing Akeela for their summer camp. These challenges carry over to online settings, where it can be equally hard to understand appropriate social boundaries. Unfortunately, because their comments and behaviors are online, they have more permanence and can carry more weight. More and more frequently, schools and law enforcement agencies are holding young people accountable for their online conduct. We have had many conversations about such incidents with campers after receiving calls from concerned parents. We believe it is important to discuss specific expectations with your children about the use and content of texting, social media and emails – and to regularly check phones and email accounts to monitor their use. While we know that our campers always have the best intentions in mind, sometimes they need our guidance to communicate appropriately and effectively.
Akeela 2015 is behind us and it was our best summer ever! This addition of the Akeela Circular, our camp newsletter, looks back on some highlights from this past summer and contains news about upcoming events. Read it all here: